The Places That Hold
John Davis Jr.
An eighth-generation Floridian, John Davis Jr. is the author of five books of poems. His work has been published in literary journals including Nashville Review, The Common, The American Journal of Poetry, and Tampa Review, among many others internationally. He holds an MFA and teaches English in the Tampa Bay area of Florida.
John Davis Jr.’s fifth collection of poetry, The Places That Hold, praises the dusty morning light of citrus farming and the pleasures of fatherhood as it explores the darkness of places like the infamous Dozier Reform School in Florida’s panhandle. Intertwining past and present with rural life, social justice, and the value of family, The Places That Hold offers readers a glimpse into the lesser-known corridors of the Sunshine State. Playwright Michael Presley Bobbitt, author of Florida Man and Trailer Park Elegy, said of the collection, “The Places That Hold braves to tackle some of the darkest memories of our shared Florida history, never gratuitously, always unflinching, and with an eye toward understanding how we are formed and influenced by them…I’m thankful there exists the kind of storytelling in these poems that cannot be shaken loose. You will be thankful, too, to have found this book and to have discovered a masterful storyteller living here among us in the scrub pines and estuaries.” The Places That Hold was awarded a bronze medal in the 2021 Florida Book Awards and a silver medal from the Florida Authors and Publishers Association.
Statue Boys For Todd and Michael, convicted of trespassing We knew our names were already deader than confederate generals erected in gray cement at Dunson Park. But nobody would care about curs like us that summer of seedless melons and faulty bike chains. So we posed atop the platformed columns in front of the Old Marsh Place, raising sleeveless arms to point long invisible sabers at some butternut horizon we’d never see. Protruding our pretend-medaled chests, we awaited some darker enemy—economy, phosphate mine labor or its blue-collar cancers— to end seasons, break cycles, fell us from small-town pedestals. Crooked Bones Dozier Reform School, 1967 The guards will start with your fingers: Backtalk or hesitancy brings the club shattering into your digits – un-wisecracking you so you’ll cry in front of the others. They laughed the day they broke my humerus and splinted it with wire coat hangers wrapped in black tape so my skin couldn’t breathe, so I’d understand honest pain. When a mother or two inquired about our gnarled fingers, our curled limbs, they had a preacher explain how the evil inside us twisted and warped, since Satan lived in all our skeletons. The breakings relieved you from weed clearing, though, and you toothbrush-scrubbed bathroom tile instead – forcing bleached bristles into straight grout lines – a white symmetry, perfect for a while. Typewriter Thief Silver keys drew me in – neatly lettered and numbered circles the size of my fingers. If only I could hear those hammers, smell ink pressed free. Taken by its store display, I sought a rhythm of permanence: the striking discharge of my name. Once cops found the Remington in my neighbor’s shed, they said That boy, as if nobody else would want black applause from a curious carriage’s well-oiled melody played on paper and ended with a single bell – done. Police returned it to Mister Howard, who let it sit because his name was already on too many buildings. They booked me in, had me hold a sign with Courier numbers – white holes of zeroes captured by print’s hard impact. Avenging Eve Dusk, and my grandmother, the stronger woman, is thrusting her small garden hoe at a green snake. The only good one is a dead one, she says, striking. She renders the creature into twitching tubes. Its dilated eye is scared slitherless, growing glassier while the yard dogs panic, wondering what’s next. Cold apple-red blood spots the south porch concrete. She rinses the serpent’s defeat away with her green garden hose as crows gather in the grove, awaiting pieces of a small housewife’s victory over history, over blame, over fear. Craft Men Our Cub Scouts den mother forced us to fashion cowboys from pipe cleaners, pirates from clothespins. Tender fingers turned white wood and fuzzy wire into characters colored by vinegar-scented markers. Real men she called them: gunslingers, swashbucklers rainbowed with glitter and dime-store puffy paint until their figures twinkled and glowed in the dark of small-town bedrooms clad in deep reds and blues. When we pressed them into battle, their decorations flecked loose, embedding in fingertip ridges until a new Tuesday when we would repair them – splintered, malformed in a land of bandanas and sashes.